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7 Questions with Clare Pearson
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7 Questions with Clare Pearson
Name: Clare Pearson
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: Little Wings
Clare is the CEO at Little Wings and has dedicated her career to the not-for-profit sector; most recently fulfilling roles as CEO in the anti-human trafficking and disability industries. Clare is a qualified psychologist, specialising in child and adolescent welfare, and passionate about working in community based projects aimed at making a difference in the lives of children and their families.
Following her training, Clare worked in positions of senior leadership in both Australia and the United Kingdom, establishing new projects of purpose and developing, leading and inspiring teams in executing innovative programs in the areas of child protection, early intervention, disability and education.
More recently, Clare authored a book titled, Threads of Hope, with the goal of celebrating the lives of human trafficking survivors. Ultimately, shining a light on the devastating scars humans have battled, the survivor stories of triumph and the incredible work, passion and intervention offered by Australians in creating change, raising the voice of those unable.
Clare is a strong believer in the power of people, whereby a united effort can effect meaningful and significant change on a local and global level.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Often as the CEO, your team expects you to have all the answers, to be able to roll out a decision immediately upon question. For me, this approach does not work. I am not that person, not that leader.
This can be a challenge as people are under pressure, they want answers, they have limited resources and time. But I have learnt to slow the process, to give permission for reflection, I do this by practicing it myself and clearly communicating the timeframe in which I require to process, consider and respond.
I find people are respectful, and are personally more reflective, if you are clear that you require '24-hours' to consider and respond; ensuring you follow through on your promised timelines.
Leadership is not race, we should not be making significant decisions on a whim. Instead, sometimes we need to briefly slow down, never be rushed, never pressured. In doing so, you are more likely to not only make the best decision but to be confident in your decision and response.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I originally trained as a clinical psychologist and found my skill best applied, and my true passion, in the not-for-profit sector focused on supporting vulnerable children and families.
Over time I have worked various roles in Australia and the United Kingdom, quickly moving from entry to management and executive positions. I was strategic in my career, craving out my offering and seeking opportunity, which led to various board appointments. This experience, connection and learning built my confidence and network, essential leading to my first CEO position at 30.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I do not sleep much, about 3 hours per night. This allows me to utilise my time more efficiently but is really a natural sleeping habit that has served me well over time.
I awake at 6am and fulfil all home/motherhood duties to ensure my family have all that they require to have a successful and positive day.
I am at my desk for 9am, I spend my morning prioritising people. I listen, via both formal and informal forums, as I feel that this gives me greater insight into the person, productivity and opportunity.
Afternoons are structured with meetings and reporting, etc. All very standard but I feel my personal productivity steadily increases into the afternoon and night. When I get home, I am home. I focus on family, my children and filling my cup with laughter, good food and family time.
But once all are asleep, I work. I feel I am my most creative, productive and inspired in the wee hours.
Whilst my pattern of work goes against every rule book of leadership and balance, it works for me.
I find the most important thing is for me to allow space without interference to focus on the task, time or person in order to be effective, connected and a holistic leader. In order to be the type of leader I aspire to be, I need to put in the extra hours to ensure all aspects of my work load are completed to a high standard.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Working in the not-for-profit sector, the Board of Directors occupy a significant role in daily function and strategy. In my early days as a CEO I failed to engage the board effectively, to take them on a journey, to guide or invest in.
Today, I better understand how to support, engage and guide the board; how to harness their skills, talent and time in the interests of the organisation but also how to set boundaries and hold my space in the boardroom.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Unfortunately, reading is one luxury I do not get to enjoy. However, I listen to many podcasts... looking to think about leadership from different perspectives, to understand how leadership has evolved and particularly the experiences of women in leadership.
I think in listening to so many diverse leadership styles, I have built confidence and really craved a unique leadership style that works for me. I am a compassionate leader, a joyous leader, and often this can be mistaken for weakness. But with time and the learnings gifted via various podcasts, I have learnt to better understand my leadership style, embrace it and defend if questioned.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Hire talent, allow them to work, give opportunities and invite varying levels of the hierarchy to participate in change, projects and forums to harden talent, skills and inspire people.
Inspired people that feel part of the process, their voice heard and valid, will work harder for the cause/business and be motivated to do more, be more and give more.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Little Wings flies seriously ill children from across regional and rural NSW to the Sydney Children's Hospital and John Hunter Children's Hospital (Newcastle) to access life-saving medical treatment that is not available in their hometowns.
In the midst of COVID, we flew a young boy home to see his family. He had not been home in 11-months; rather in isolation at Westmead Children's Hospital in the deepest of treatment. He died a few days after returning home.
2 hours after he had passed away, his mother called me and said that her son wanted me to know that they were 'the best 4 days at home that he had had in a long time'.
This call reminds us to stay connected to the people, community and team that we support. We are never too important to pick up the phone, to listen to someone's story. Human connection makes you a great leader... yes, you need to create balance, and prioritise, and say no too. But leadership means understanding the people you serve, it means inspiring and drawing back to
experiences/stories/facts that people can relate to, be inspired by and make them want to listen... and moreover, the delivery of your communications is key to connecting.